Doctor Festus is the main protagonist of a work penned by Töpffer in 1829. He undertakes a “great voyage of instruction” on the back of a mule but, following various combinations of circumstances, never actually gets very far from his village. In fact, despite himself the good doctor is always taking a range of outlandish means of transportation that paradoxically hinder him from decently grasping his journey. The tale of Doctor Festus begins when the doctor discovers in his stable a “very handsome mule,” (page 1) which he allows to grow for four years before setting out on his trip, as the few lines of text accompanying each drawing make clear.
Just as he is about to depart, the expedition takes a comic turn when the saddle, poorly strapped on the mule, slips around and Doctor Festus finds himself upside down, hanging under the belly of the pack animal and unable to appreciate his trip: “Before turning in the doctor wishes to write down what he has seen, but he reflects that he hasn’t seen anything’ (page 3). Although night has fallen, Doctor Festus wants to observe the “curiosities” of the place, but the flame of his candle goes out at that very moment. Thwarted here as well, he decides to go to bed but in the darkness enters the wrong room and falls asleep in Milady’s trunk. The trunk is then borne away, unbeknownst to him,by two thieves: “Jean Baune, ex-convict, and Pierre Santara, vagabond, who are looking to do a job, steal Milady’s trunk and carry it off into the woods” (page 5).
Thus, the different episodes of Doctor Festus play out in a comic strain. In an odyssey where nothing happens as planned, our protagonist travels as well in a haystack, inside a hollow log mounted on four wheels, in a sack of wheat being transported on the back of a donkey and finally inside a giant telescope. The journey comes to an end when he wakes up at home after fainting and believes that he has dreamt the whole mad undertaking. Misunderstandings and mishaps end up parodying the educational journey.